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NFL Draft

What’s The Next Step For Antonio Gibson?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 21, 2021
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Just 23 years old and six games into his second campaign as a pro, the expectations for Antonio Gibson within Washington’s offense have continually risen since his arrival to the team as a third-rounder last spring. A modern back with the ability to gain yards in chunks on the ground and as a pass-catching threat, his sophomore season (thus far) has provided minimal production with no clear path to improvement.

Week 1 saw Gibson get back on track off of his dynamic rookie campaign. 90 yards on the ground with five targets through the air, Gibson failed to reach paydirt but offered a glimpse into a workload expected to mirror that of Christian McCaffrey in Carolina. Under Scott Turner’s tutelage—McCaffrey’s offensive coordinator at the tail end of 2019—Gibson thrived in his debut season, amassing more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage with 11 touchdowns. And when Turner hinted at Gibson’s expected increase in touches during the spring, production in the amount that Washington hasn’t seen since nearly a decade ago from Alfred Morris was expected. 

Microscoping Gibson’s talent is a tough ask; he’s everything that scouts desire in a modern-day ball-carrier. Along with his prowess inside the hashes, his primary success out of Memphis came in the pass game, where his role as a running back played second-fiddle to his presence as a pass-catcher. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, when you think about today’s most dominant weapons out of the backfield, the smaller frames of the aforementioned McCaffrey or the likes of Alvin Kamara or Austin Ekeler often headline the group. But for Gibson, a bigger back with bigger punch, his frame presents an entirely different beast when attempting to game plan against him for 60 minutes. He can wear you down inside the tackles, run both over and around defenders, and when you bring an extra man in the box, he’ll slip out of the backfield and take a screen pass 73 yards to the house.

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While he’s offered his fair share of flash plays through Washington’s 2-4 start, he continues to deal with lingering lower-body injuries and his role as the burgundy and gold’s premier RB1 option looks to have quickly slipped through his fingertips playing in just 57% and 39% of offensive snaps the last two weeks.

Behind an offensive line that has undergone its fair share of shuffling, they rank among the league’s best in both facets—mauling in the run while allowing just six sacks, tied for the best in football. So for Gibson, there’s been little excuse for his minimal YPC totals and league-leading number of fumbles (3). With 20 carries against the New Orleans Saints in Week 5, Gibson matched his season-high and it looked like an attempt from Turner to get his locomotive back on the rails. In what was a back and forth ballgame that saw Gibson reach the end zone twice, his failure to consistently get his legs going in the run limited Washington’s ability to dial-up play-action, which ultimately limited Turner’s play-calling variety. A front seven from New Orleans that leads the league in yards per carry allowed, Gibson accumulated 60 yards on the ground, good for just 3.0 yards a pop. Without a run game, a one-dimensional unit spells trouble for Washington, as Taylor Heinicke’s flare looks to have been muffled as we near the halfway point of the season. He thrives off boot and play-action, but when opposing defenses don’t respect the run and can drop seven in coverage, it’s a recipe for disaster for a team that’s scored just 35 points combined the last two weeks. 

When it comes to the straw that stirs the Washington offense, while many would argue it’s Terry McLaurin, Gibson is the point guard for Washington—and when he’s not receiving his necessary touches, the entire offense is put into a tailspin. While J.D. McKissic is a nice change of pace back who can shoulder the load for a series or two for Gibson to breathe, Ron Rivera’s success on offense hinges around No. 24. While a lingering shin issue has kept his status up in the air for Week 7 in Green Bay, the time for Gibson to kick into second and third gear is now; Washington’s ascendancy depends on it.

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